2015 Wales Rally GB


For Sebastien Ogier, his third Rally GB win was an emotional occasion, dedicated to the memory of those who had lost their lives in the attacks on Paris. With the two men winning the rally being from France, and the two who finished second driving for a French team, it was one of those comparatively rare occasions when seismic world events tangibly punctured the bubble of motor sport in which most of the main actors live.

Ogier, however, echoed the view of Romain Grosjean in Formula 1: that the most effective way to pay tribute to the victims would be to stick the tricolour on top of the podium.

“Mentally, it wasn’t easy to continue after what happened on Friday in France, but in these situations, you have to carry on even stronger than before,” said Ogier at the finish. “It’s not easy for me to find the right words to say at the moment, but as a small sign of support, I want to dedicate this victory to the memory of all those who lost their lives and everybody else affected by these tragic events.”

From the outset, it looked like there was no way anybody else would have a look in – particularly once his Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala slid off into a ditch on the opening morning: probably the only man who could potentially match Ogier in terms of pure pace in Wales.

The statistics tell the story: Volkswagen won 12 out of 13 rallies this year, making a total of 26 podiums, while the Polo was quickest on 15 of the 19 Rally GB stages. Since the car made its debut in 2013, it has won 504 out of the 717 stages that have subsequently taken place.

Kris Meeke, who eventually finished second in Wales, said that it was simply impossible to compete. “We all know Sebastien and what he has underneath him,” pointed out the Ulsterman. “I’m not here to fight with him: just to do my own rally and bring home the best result I can.”

So not only was becoming the first Briton to stand on a home podium in 14 years like a victory for Meeke, but according to the man himself, it was actually even better than his win earlier this year in Argentina. “I definitely drove better here than I did in Argentina,” he said. “In many ways, this is an even trickier rally.”

He was certainly right about that, because the result that secured Citroen second place in the manufacturers’ championship – following a close battle with Hyundai and M-Sport – was achieved against the backdrop of storm Abigail, which lashed the country and turned the Welsh rain horizontal. As a result there was even more mud, greater variation in the lack of grip available, and long sections that were characterised by dense fog. With Rally GB losing its traditional end-of-season slot and moving to October next year, these are probably the most challenging conditions that we will witness on the event for a while.

And that’s what makes the achievements of the man who finished third – Volkswagen’s junior, Andreas Mikkelsen ­– all the more remarkable. Mikkelsen came to Wales off the back of his debut win, in Spain, but he could not have had a worse start to the season finale: he was forced to fly back to Germany for a medical check-up (which subsequently proved to be all-clear) and missed the shakedown: on the one event of the year when you really don’t want that to happen. Nonetheless, he was consistently in the top three, despite going into the event ‘cold’: literally as well as practically…

The ease of making a mistake in the challenging conditions was illustrated graphically by Thierry Neuville in the Hyundai, who ended what had been a dismal season for him by retiring twice: firstly as a result of broken wheel studs on day one, then in a dramatic roll on day two (but he did at least set back-to-back fastest times before exiting stage left).

It wasn’t what Hyundai needed in their bid to secure second in the manufacturers’ standings, although their asphalt expert Dani Sordo somehow managed to finish fourth: proof that a steady and risk-free approach was more profitable than a flat-out charge for victory in the challenging conditions.

From the Archive: Spotlight on Sebastien Ogier (2013)

The other contender for the runner-up spot – which has been the main focus of sporting interest in the WRC this year – was M-Sport, but an accident for Ott Tanak on the final day, as well as a puncture for Elfyn Evans (who finished sixth) meant that it was not to be.

As locally loved as Welsh hero Evans is, there was no doubt about the most popular car on the rally. For once, this was a mere Group N machine: but not just any Group N car. David Higgins won the Production class in a blue Subaru: which faithfully copied the livery in which the legendary Colin McRae won Rally GB and the world title exactly 20 years ago.

From the Archive: Colin McRae, 1968-2007

Our thanks to Certina Watches for their help with this feature.

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